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UNLIKELY BROTHERS by John Prendergast


Our Story of Adventure, Loss, and Redemption

by John Prendergast and Michael Mattocks

Pub Date: May 17th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-46484-2
Publisher: Crown

Unusual split memoir of the intertwined lives of a reformed drug dealer and a misfit turned Africa diplomat.

In alternating chapters, Prendergast (co-author: The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes, 2010) and Mattocks describe the bond that began many years ago, when Prendergast started an informal “Big Brother” relationship with Mattocks when he was seven years old and homeless. Prendergast depicts his own adolescence as deeply unhappy. Scarred by acne and familial estrangement, he retreated into athletics and fantasies of becoming a “do-gooder.” He’d already discovered a preoccupation with Africa, specifically the suffering which the West ignored, that would eventually lead to his life’s work, but also impulsively befriended Michael and his younger brother, James, while visiting a Washington D.C., shelter in 1983: “These boys had nothing and yet radiated with life and sunshine.” Over time, Prendergast provided a vital emotional lifeline to the Mattocks boys while trying to assuage his interest in Africa, moving from internship to lobbying on behalf of a small philanthropy, Bread for the World, and visiting the continent’s trouble spots. Eventually, the author’ss dedication to this lonely cause led him to the Clinton White House, where he was Director for African Affairs at the NSC, and to involvement with celebrities like Don Cheadle and Angelina Jolie. The chapters that capture Mattocks’ perspective are written in an unadorned, colloquial style that is nonetheless effective in capturing the forgotten realities of black urban America during the ’80s, when gun violence and crack hellishly transformed daily life in places like D.C. Mattocks’ depiction of his and James’ gradual immersion in the drug trade is chilling, and he considers himself fortunate to have escaped, but also acknowledges that Prendergast’s mentoring made a crucial difference: “Even though my dad left, we had J.P…. he cared about us in a way even my mom and my aunts didn’t know how to.”

A feel-good narrative that underscores the brutal effects of poverty at home and injustice abroad.